It is an honor to be called to the Torah. And at Temple B'nai Israel, we continuously look for opportunities to offer this special distinction to members of our congregation during the most sacred services.
However, it is important to understand the set procedures prior to participating in this holy ritual. Below, we've outlined the steps involved in detail, which can help you prepare. Thank you for contributing to our service. We're delighted to honor you.
At Shabbat services, holidays, or joyous occasions like bar and bat mitzvahs, guests who may not be familiar with the synagogue routine are often honored with various synagogue honors which can be confusing to the non-initiated. This guide should be helpful in navigating these rituals and allow you to feel more confident when you are called up to the bimah.
All men are asked to wear a kipah or head covering whenever they come into the synagogue. Our congregation asks that women also cover their heads when coming up to the bimah for an honor. Jewish men are expected to wear a tallit at morning services and throughout the day on Yom Kippur. Women may choose to do so if they wish. Except on Yom Kippur, we don’t wear a tallit at night. The gabbai is the person who distributes the honors and may prompt you to come up at the appropriate time.
Sometimes known as Petichah, this honor is simply a matter of opening the doors and curtains of the ark while a prayer is recited and then closing them once more at its conclusion. Sometimes one person is called for this honor and other times two people may share the honor. When the gabbai sends you up, stand on one side or the other of the ark (two people should stand on opposite sides). When the rabbi indicates that it is time to open the ark, slide the doors to either side. The person on the right facing the ark is next to the cord for the curtains and should pull down on the cord and open the curtain. Remain alongside the ark until the reading is completed. When the rabbi indicates that it is time to close the ark, pull on the cord to close the curtain and slide the doors together. After that, return to your seat. If you are opening the ark for the taking out of the Torah, join the procession as it is taken around the sanctuary. Then go back to your seat as you pass it.
Carrying the Torah
When the gabbai indicates that you should go up to the bimah, proceed to the ark and stand to one side. Generally, other honorees will open the ark and all will remain standing next to the it as the appropriate prayers are chanted. When the Torah is taken out, one scroll will be handed to you and you should put it on your right shoulder. Place your right hand under the rollers and let the scroll rest on your arm. If you have the first scroll that will be read, you'll lead the procession and be directed to carry it down the steps and to the right of the congregation. Walk around the right section all the way to the back and then up the center aisle. When you return to the bimah, someone will take the Torah from you and place it on the reading stand and you may return to your seat.
If you have the second Torah, follow the leader and, basically, the same instructions apply.
If you are returning the Torah to the ark, again, follow the same instructions except that if you are leading the procession. So you should go to the left instead of the right, all the way to the back and up the center aisle. When you get back on the bimah, go to the ark and someone will take the Torah from you and place it in the ark. Remain for the prayers that are chanted and after the ark is closed, you may return to your seat.
Please come up front a page or two prior to your reading. Either sit on the bimah or in one of the front rows until you are motioned to come up. Go to the readers’ stand next to the microphone. You will need to speak directly into the microphone to be heard properly. Read your selection or if you are leading a responsive reading or a unison reading, ask the congregation to join you or to respond to you. Then begin, reading slowly, clearly and loudly so you may be understood. Try to make your reading a natural part of the service rather than an interruption. If you are standing next to the cantor or rabbi as they conclude the Hebrew prayer prior to your reading and are ready to continue immediately, that avoids an interruption. When you complete your reading, you may return to your seat.
If you are honored with an aliyah, you can facilitate being called by taking a seat near the front of the sanctuary when the Torah reading begins. If the gabbai has your Hebrew name, you will be called by that name and your father’s name. If you wish to add your mother’s name as well, that is also permissible and encouraged. If the gabbai does not have your name, be prepared to tell this individual your Hebrew name and your parents’ Hebrew names as well. If your father was a kohen or levi, that should also be known before you are called. This is because a kohen or a levi is called only to specific aliyot.
When you are called to the Torah, you should proceed to the bimah by the most direct route. The scroll will be uncovered and unrolled and the reader will point to the place where he or she is reading next. Take the corner of your tallit (or the end of the Torah wrapper, touch it to the place and then touch it to your lips. Take hold of both rollers (known as Atzei Chayim, trees of life since the Torah is “a tree of life to those who hold fast to it”) and recite or chant the blessing before the reading. It is printed on a card next to the Torah in Hebrew letters with English transliteration beneath each section.
First say, “Barchu et Adonay hamevorach.” (Notice that this is not a baruch ahah prayer. That comes later. The first word is barchu). The congregation will respond with “Baruch Adonay hamevorach l’olam va-ed,” which you should now repeat aloud. Proceed then to read the rest of the blessing. The congregation will reply, “Amen.” Release the left roller and let the reader take it while you continue to hold onto the right roller. The reader will administer his or her own reading with the pointer (yad) and you can follow along. When the reader finishes, he or she will point to the place where they concluded and once again you should touch your tallit or the wrapper to the place and to your lips. Take hold of both rollers again and roll the Torah closed. Now recite the second blessing. The congregation will answer, "Amen." Step to the side and remain at the Torah table until the next aliyah is concluded and then you may return to your seat. The custom is to go by a roundabout route to receive the congratulations of the congregation.
Hagbahah – Lifting the Torah
You will be called to the Torah by your Hebrew name and the name of your father (and if you wish, your mother as well). If the gabbai does not have your name in advance, this leader will ask for it. So be ready to share your name, your father’s name and if you are a kohen or a levi. (Mosheh ben Amram HaLevi v’Yocheved, for example.) When it is time to lift the Torah, gently slide it a third or more off the table toward you as you hold both rollers with the parchment opened to three columns of text. Bend your knees so you can use them for leverage in lifting the scroll. Then raise the Torah off the table as you unbend your knees and stand upright. Turn around so the congregation can see the text. Hold the Torah for a moment in that position while we chant the prayer and immediately head to a chair and sit down. Keep the Torah upright and roll it closed and maintain it in place while it is being wrapped. Then hand it to someone to place on the stand. After that is completed, you may return to your seat.
Gelilah – Wrapping the Torah
You will be called to the Torah by your Hebrew name and the name of your father (and if you wish, your mother as well). If the gabbai does not have your name in advance, this person will ask for it. So be ready to share your name, your father’s name and if you are a kohen or a levi. (Mosheh ben Amram HaLevi v’Yocheved, for example.)
When the person who is lifting the Torah raises it off the table, you become this individual's spotter and should be prepared to catch the Torah should it slip. As soon as this person sits down, you need to grasp hold of the rollers and together you will roll the Torah tightly closed. The rollers should fit together (one side has a single disk, which fits into the double disks on the other roller) If the parchment has fallen down over the bottom disk of the rollers, move it back into place. Take the wrapper, make sure it is right side up and stretch it around the Torah with the fastener at the opening in front of the lifter. Insert the tab into the buckle. Then take the mantle and, placing the design toward the lifter, insert the rollers into the holes on top and then smooth out the rest of the mantle into place. You may need to take the Torah afterward and place it in the stand on the bimah or someone else may take it. Then you may return to your seat.